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For Presidents' Day: 'Red Wine, White House'

February 18, 2013|By S. Irene Virbila
  • President Nixon toasts Chinese Premier Chou En-Lai in 1972.
President Nixon toasts Chinese Premier Chou En-Lai in 1972. (Bettman/UPI )

Up at for Presidents' Day, a story called “Red Wine, White House” by Ben O’Donnell details how Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan and their successors “helped propel American wine to the top of the world.”

Nixon, remember, drank Château Margaux. “In those days,” O’Donnell reminds us, “you could afford first-growths on a president’s salary.” But he didn’t pour it for the whole table. Guests got the cheaper stuff while Nixon nursed his private bottle.

By President Johnson’s day, American wines were served. And when Reagan came to the White House, he brought Daniel Shanks from Domaine Chandon to serve as White House director of food and beverage, a post he still holds.

“Ronald Reagan,” O’Connell writes,  “only took up drinking on the advice of a doctor and never slugged 'em back like Nixon did. But he was a Californian, and he often decamped to his ranch in Santa Ynez to contemplate matters of the world in the heart of Santa Barbara wine country. What's more, one of Reagan's closest confidantes, deputy chief of staff Michael Deaver, maintained a line of wine advice and supply back to California merchants. Through Deaver, the White House amassed stocks of Beaulieu Vineyards, Robert Mondavi, Buena Vista, Louis Martini, Inglenook, Simi, Sterling, Grgich Hills, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, Montelena, Acacia and more — as accurate a snapshot of California fine wine in its salad days as any."

In today’s White House, state dinners only last an hour, so Shanks generally decants wines beforehand. “Within this framework, Shanks has served wines from 19 or 20 states, Idaho to Pennsylvania, North Carolina to Massachusetts.” No favoritism on the White House wine list.     An interesting and timely read.


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